Otherwise known as creme anglaise or 'posh custard'...
This is a treat that can elevate a simple pudding to something very special. It’s the luxurious combination of full-fat milk (no semi-skimmed substitutes here), sugar, fresh eggs and fresh vanilla that makes this silky-smooth sauce so good.
Making fresh custard requires one other essential ingredient from the cook: patience. Custard must be cooked slowly over a very low heat and stirred constantly, until it gradually thickens to the point where it coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Boiling point is the enemy once you have added the eggs, so always keep the temperature of the custard just below the boil. If it boils, the eggs will begin to separate, much as they would if you were making scrambled eggs. If this happens, you may be able to save the custard by quickly straining the egg mixture through a sieve into a blender and whizzing it until smooth. You may then reheat it with a little blended cornflour and milk to help it stabilise, but all this will depend on how far it has curdled.
The golden rule is that you shouldn’t be tempted to increase the heat. It will only take about 8 minutes to cook, and remember: a fresh egg custard thickens only to something akin to fresh pouring double cream.
One final tip for non-purists – you can whisk a pinch of cornflour into the eggs and sugar before you start, which helps the custard stabilise as it cooks.
1. To make enough custard to serve 6, put 500ml full-fat milk into a heavy-based saucepan. Split a vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and pod to the pan. Bring just to the boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside until required.
2. Put 5 organic free-range egg yolks into a large bowl with 80g golden caster sugar (unrefined golden caster sugar has a more distinct caramel flavour than white sugar). Using a hand whisk, whisk until thick and pale.
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk through a sieve onto the whisked egg yolk and sugar mixture, stirring well. Discard the pod (the seeds will fall through into the custard). Quickly wash out the pan and return the mixture to the clean, dry pan.
4. Return the pan to a low heat and cook slowly, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. This will take about 8 minutes. Test it by running a finger through the custard on the spoon: if it leaves a straight, clear line, it’s ready.
Orange crème caramel
Takes 1 hour to make, plus chilling
Per serving: 296kcals, 15g fat (7.9g saturated), 7.5g protein, 35.4g carbs, 35.4g sugar, 0.2g salt
Ingredients: 150ml full-fat milk, 300ml single cream, zest of 1 unwaxed orange, pared in 1 strip, 180g caster sugar, 4 organic free-range eggs. Orange zest and angelica, to decorate (optional).
Put the milk and cream into a pan and add the orange zest. Bring just to the boil, then set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.
Meanwhile, put 150g sugar into a heavy-based pan with 2 tablespoons water and dissolve over a low heat. Continue cooking until it is a golden caramel colour. Divide between 6 x 125ml ramekins, tilting them to cover the bases. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 150ºC/fan130ºC/gas 2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with the remaining sugar. Strain the cream into the eggs, discarding the zest, and stir well. Pour the mixture into the ramekins, then place in a large roasting tray. Pour in hot water until halfway up the ramekins’ sides. Cook for 30-35 minutes, until firm but with a wobble. Cool, then chill for at least 3 hours.
Loosen each crème caramel with a knife and invert onto a plate. Decorate with twists of orange zest and angelica.
Pastry cream is essentially fresh egg custard thickened with flour, and this amount will fill 6 individual pastry cases for fruit tarts. Whisk 6 egg yolks in a bowl with 100g golden caster sugar, then whisk in 25g plain flour and 25g cornflour. Bring 600ml full-fat milk to the boil and stir into the egg. Wash and dry the pan quickly, then pour the mixture back into the pan and bring to the boil, stirring until thickened. (Don’t worry about boiling it, the flour will stabilise it.) Cool and cover with a wetted disc of baking paper to stop a skin forming.
To make chocolate custard, grate plain chocolate to taste into the warm custard and stir until smooth.
Other custard recipes
Rhubarb and creamy custard for grown-ups
Cardamon and bay-scented trifle